Psychiatric medication

Explains what psychiatric drugs are, what to know before taking them, and information on side effects and coming off medication.

What is psychiatric medication?

Psychiatric medication includes all drugs which can be prescribed to treat different types of mental health problems, or to reduce the symptoms. 

What types of psychiatric medication are there?

There are four main types of psychiatric medication:


These are mostly prescribed for people experiencing depression, though you might also be offered an antidepressant if you're experiencing anxietyobsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)eating problems, or depression as part of another mental health problem.

>See our info on antidepressants
>See our A–Z of antidepressants


Sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers

These can help you sleep if you experience severe sleep problems, or calm you down if you experience severe anxiety (sometimes called anti-anxiety medication).

>See our info on sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers
>See our A–Z of sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers


These may be prescribed to reduce distressing symptoms of psychosis, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and sometimes severe anxiety.

They are sometimes also prescribed for people experiencing bipolar disorder as they can help control hypomania and mania.

>See our info on antipsychotics
>See our A–Z of antipsychotics


Mood stabilisers (including lithium)

These can help stabilise your mood if you experience extreme mood swings, for example if you have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. They may also be prescribed for hypomania and mania and sometimes recurrent severe depression.

>See our info on mood stabilisers

In addition to looking at our pages on these types of medication by clicking the links above, you can also find reliable information on the eMC (electronic Medicines Compendium) and NHS Choices websites. 

Why might I take medication? 

Generally, psychiatric drugs can’t cure a mental health problem. But in some cases, they can help reduce the symptoms or help you cope with them better. 

Whether you are offered medication or not depends on:

  • your diagnosis
  • your symptoms
  • how severely the condition affects you.

There are many other types of treatment options as well as medication. Many people use a combination of medication and other treatments, such as a talking treatment, to manage their condition. 

How long might I take medication for?

Again, this depends on:

  • your diagnosis
  • how severely the condition affects you.

For some conditions (such as depression, or an episode of psychosis), you might only be expected take the medication for a specific period of time.

If you have repeated episodes of mental ill health (such as might happen with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia), your doctor might advise you to stay on your medication for several years, or indefinitely.

Who can prescribe medication? 

You can be prescribed psychiatric medication by: 

  • a GP  
  • a psychiatrist 
  • a nurse prescriber – usually attached to your surgery or community mental health team (CMHT).

This information was published in 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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